#3, Duty to Support: clarity?
The February blogpost highlighted the important role Local Planning Authorities (LPAs) play in neighbourhood planning and why there may be variations in approach and the level of support that they are able to offer. In this post we discuss the importance of developing an open and honest working relationship.
Firstly, groups need to understand how the LPA is likely to deliver on its duty to support. A good starting point is to have a look at the information and guidance available on their website – they may have a specific section on neighbourhood planning, otherwise, it is likely to be found within Planning Policy. Most LPAs provide general information on the process, signposts to further information and guidance and contact details of who to contact for further information and assistance. Some areas appoint a dedicated neighbourhood planning officer whereas in others support is provided by the Planning Policy Team.
Having identified the most appropriate contact Neighbourhood Planning groups should engage with the LPA at an early stage in the process and have an open conversation about what support they can provide (and when) and also what in turn they expect from groups. In some areas this may be formalised in a Memorandum of Understanding. As part of these conversations you should seek a named contact for your group as this will help to ensure consistency of support and guidance throughout the process.
You may also take this opportunity to discuss your initial aspirations for the area, whether a neighbourhood plan is the most appropriate tool and to gain a greater understanding of what the neighbourhood plan may be able to realistically deliver. This can help to manage expectations as research has shown that a key sticking point for groups is due to tension between local expectations and desires and the legislative framework and parameters within which neighbourhood planning operates.
In order to assist with your understanding of the technical requirements of neighbourhood planning groups should also read the relevant passages of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), its due to be amended soon though, National Planning Practice Guidance on Neighbourhood Planning (this provides more practical and detailed advice and guidance) and review the strategic policies in the adopted Local Plan. This will help you to understand the wider planning context, the parameters of neighbourhood planning and to identify areas and issues that will be best tackled through a locally distinctive neighbourhood plan. For example, as well as identifying areas that cannot be addressed through a neighbourhood plan (e.g. in many cases Affordable Housing policies are strategic policies) the Local Plan may already identify particular issues to be addressed. For example, some LPAs are providing groups with a “housing target” or an expectation that they will amend the settlement boundary. Again, your LPA should be able to offer advice on the national and local context.
In any case, knowing the “ground rules” and engaging in (in)formal dialogue at the start can significantly smooth the process and make it easier for groups to focus on the issues and areas of greatest value and importance to them – thus ensuring a locally distinctive and legally compliant neighbourhood plan. Bingo!
Planning Aid England have produced a suite of resources to assist groups including how to engage and work constructively with your local planning authority’ and ‘who to speak to at your local planning authority.’